It was the best of times……It was the worst of times……No, actually it was just the best of times because it was Saturday morning and I was on my way to a gun show. It was a small local show and as I stood in the doorway I saw only about six racks of long guns sticking up. It didn’t take very long to spy a Savage Model 340 on a Mom-and-Pop table near the door.
When it comes to guns, I admire everything, but I prefer walnut and blued steel. When I was a boy, even economical .22’s often came with a walnut stock. The Savage 340 does not disappoint in this regard. Never intended to be anything but an unpretentious and inexpensive hunting arm, it nevertheless is all metal with a straight-grain black walnut stock. I hasten to add that the 340 has been out of print since 1985, but you can still find one, as I did, standing at Mom and Pop’s table. This one had the appearance of not having been shot very much. The stock had all of its finish and few dents or scratches. The metal showed very little wear, the bore looked great, and the action functioned perfectly. I paid the reasonable asking price – it is good to keep mom and pop in business – and walked off with my first ever .30-30, but it wasn’t a lever action.
It wasn’t long until I found myself at another local show, and at this one I came upon a rack of beaters that had an old, sporterized Krag in it. I had read a bit about the Krag-Jorgensen, America’s first bolt action military rifle, and had been intrigued by its design. Named after its two Norwegian designers, the Krag-Jorgensen was adopted by the U. S. Army in 1892, along with its famous cartridge, called the .30 Government or .30 U.S., but more commonly known as the .30-40 Krag. The rifle that presented itself to me that day had a nicely-shaped walnut sporter stock in which a previous owner had applied some small decorations, and the name “Johnny” in a pointilistic style, probably using a small nail and some white paint. He then gouged out large diamond-shaped panels in the butt stock and triangular panels on the sides of the foreend. In these panels he set some kind of plaster and on top of this he glued a large amount of gold glitter. The whole was then given a thick coat of varnish, complete with runs. It was an extreme example of the kind of thing you often find with Krags, and a good reason for a low asking price. In spite of the tacky appearance, the action appeared to be sound and functional, and I envisioned adding a bit of experience with the .30-40 cartridge to compare and contrast with the .30-30 activity. So I ponied up with enough to get the Krag home and the stage was set for a “tale of two thirties.”
Two thirty caliber cartridges
The two thirties in question are interesting cartridges because they were both present at the birth of the smokeless powder era near the end of the nineteenth century. They were among the first American, centerfire, bottleneck cases to use smokeless powder to propel jacketed bullets. As has been explained by others many times before, the smaller cartridge was originally called the .30 Winchester Centerfire . The.30 WCF gave way to the .30-30 designation, derived from the bore diameter of .30 inch and the charge of 30 grains of powder. With a larger and more robust case, the .30-40 used about 40 grains of smokeless powder. Depending on powder type, of course, these charge weights are not far off from what we would use today in modern loads for these old timers. The thirty-thirty was intended to be a hunting round, and the .30-40, of course, a military round. Operating at around 40,000 psi or less, the cartridges develop modest velocity and power by modern standards. Let me note at this point that almost 120 years later we are still using center fire, bottlenecked cases and smokeless powder to propel jacketed bullets. I am therefore reluctant to label these patriarchs as obsolete.
You can search the shooting literature and you won’t find much information on what it is like to shoot and develop loads for the Savage 340. This is where I come in, but, really, why should anyone care? Probably anyone who wields one simply wants to bonk a buck and then put the piece quickly away until next year. But hold on, there are things to be learned. My 340 came in very good condition. The straight-grain walnut stock is, shall we say, ample, and bringing the piece to your shoulder is kind of like hugging your Aunt Sophie, large and comfy. Cartridges are held in a box magazine, usually called a “clip.” A clip comes with the built-in perception of being a cheap way to do things, but a clip is really a very practical way to get cartridges in and out of your gun, and, if you don’t suffer from too bad a case of “mauser envy”,” you just might like it. Clips are criticized because they get lost, and yes, if you are a klutz, you will lose your clip. I always keep a spare handy. The two-piece bolt has a single locking lug and the 22-inch barrel is secured to the receiver by a knurled nut, labeling the 340 as an ancestor of the later 110-series Savages. The barrel also has a metal band secured by a screw through the foreend about halfway up. The 340 requires a side scope mount and the picture shows the B-Square that I had installed. It is solid and reliable. Note that it is necessary to relieve the wood on the left side of the receiver to accommodate the mount.
The second thirty, the Krag-Jorgensen rifle, is an aristocrat of the firearms world because it has one of the most interesting bolt actions ever devised for a rifle. The side gate for loading 5 cartridges makes it so. The Krag was adopted by the U.S Army following lengthy trials of many candidates. All Krags were manufactured at the Springfield Armory, and one can only guess what it would cost to produce one today. The metal work is incredible. Since it took some time to get production going, the earliest date one finds on Krag rifles and carbines is 1894. Modifications were made as time went on, resulting in the two most common models, the 1896 and 1898. The Krag had a brief but active career, and was soon displaced in the army ranks by the 1903 Springfield and its new cartridge, the .30-03, that soon became the legendary .30-06. After the government adopted the 1903 Springfield most of the military Krags went into civilian hands for very low prices. Many of them were cut down and sporterized, and subjected to much amateur gun tinkering, before being adopted by a hunters. In spite of its short life span more than 400,000 Krag rifles and carbines were produced. If you wish to know more about them you should look at Colonel Brophy’s book. (Brophy, William S., The KRAG Rifle, 2nd Edn., The Gun Room Press, Highland Park, NJ, 1995)
My 1898 Krag had a 24-inch barrel, which identified it as a cut-down rifle. All carbines had 22-inch barrels. Puzzling was the fact that it seemed to have a regular Krag front sight, the kind with a tall base forged near the end of the barrel and a blade pinned at the top. Even more interesting (Oh Joy!) the barrel had been counterbored to a depth of 1.5 inches. That is what one would do, perhaps, if the muzzle had been abused by cleaning with a metal rod from the front. That would have happened after the gun left the army in cut-down form, and probably because it is not easy to get the bolt out of a Krag, not as easy as with a Mauser or ‘03 Springfield. So, why not just give ‘er a few quick strokes from the front? As for the front sight, I think it was cut from the original rifle, welded on the cut-down barrel, and finished smooth (almost). As I continued my examination, I got my bore light lit and got another rude surprise. The bore looked like three miles of bad road. I felt a little better as I studied mine longer, however, because the rifling was plainly visible, albeit without sharp edges. Lands and grooves were covered with light to moderate pitting, giving the bore a dark appearance. All in all, not very encouraging, but the action was solid and completely functional. There were no cracks around the bolt’s single locking lug or anywhere in the receiver or barrel.
Heading For the Range
Excited about shooting, I assembled the necessary reloading dies and materials, and started with the Savage .30-30. I had a cast bullet curiosity going and had heard they
could be great in a bolt action .30-30. Light loads of SR4759 and XMP 5744 behind a 170-gr bullet from a Lyman mold gave fair results, an inch to inch-and-a-half at 50 yds from a bench rest. The gun functioned well and the Bushnell Trophy 4-12X I had chosen was great, but the side mount put the scope a bit high. Not really a big concern when shooting from the bench. Early trials with jacketed bullets gave mixed results. Good groups could be had, but often they took a hike with flyers on the first or last shot. Fiddling with the barrel band and forearm screws gave improvement. Generally, the forearm screw needed to be very tight and the barrel band screw snug. A shim under the receiver tang stabilized the action fore and aft. This is needed when you have an action that rocks in the stock when the screws are loosened. The best way to hold the gun on the bench also needs to be determined. I used a front rest and a rear bag with a fairly firm hold both at the wrist and foreend. Figure 6 shows four 3-shot groups made at 100-yds with WW Super-X 170 gr Silvertips. The largest measured 1.32 in. This is about the best card of groups the gun provided with factory loads, but usually I have found that any factory load will do 2 in. or better. Five-shot groups in this category were harder to get.
For handloads, I took great pains with case preparation. The .30-30 responds well to the usual accuracy practices, such as sorting cases by weight, deburring flash holes, reaming primer pockets, trimming to uniform length, and minimizing neck runout on loaded rounds.
It seemed that necksizing with a Lee collet sizing die was particularly effective, as was the use of a Forster Benchrest Bullet Seater. I worked mostly with 150 grainers. Sierra has two, a flat nose and a round nose, and Hornady has a round nose. They all work well. My powder of choice was Winchester 748 with a standard primer. The load I used gave about 2100 fps, which seemed a bit low for the powder charge, and I think that is because this 340 has a very long chamber throat. Groups with the Sierra 150 gr. Flat nose were the most consistent in size, falling between 1 and 2 inches at 100 yds.
Additional good results have been usual for “standard” .30-30 bullets, that is, flat- or round-nosed, those that can be safely used in lever actions. Of course, in a bolt action you can use spitzers or anything you want, and here is a hoot. This 340 showed a taste for Sierra 155-gr Palma match bullets. I had some on hand for some .308 rounds I was loading and decided on a whim to fill a few .30-30s with them, again using W748 to a velocity of about 2000 fps. Figure 7 shows the first groups shot with this pill. Encouraged by these results, I loaded for 20 more three-shot groups, sixteen of which measured less than 1.5 in. at 100 yds. Wouldn’t impress any Palma Match shooters, but this was probably the most fun I had with the noble Savage.
I didn’t expect to have results like these as I contemplated shooting the Oley Krag. When I looked at the military sights with my mature eyes, I thought that maybe I could hit a
moose at sixty yards. Perhaps it wouldn’t be worth more than that, but I decided to mount a scope to give it the best chance for success. Krag receivers are very hard and therefore not easy for amateur drillers and tappers. Luckily, S & K Scope Mounts (www.scopemounts.com) has a whole line of no-drill mounts for military rifles, Krag included. The one I got several years ago is shown in Figure 8. The ring at front (left) goes around the receiver ring and the hook at the rear fits in the hole of the magazine cutoff, which must be removed to allow this attachment. The newest version of this mount has a somewhat different attachment at the rear. A setscrew amidships gives rigidity to the whole unit. The scope ends up offset to the left of the bore axis as it would otherwise interfere with the bolt and safety. It takes some getting used to at the range. You also better have some motivation to work with this piece as it is not inexpensive and some wood work has to be done to fit the receiver ring. Anything for the cause is my motto.
The first rounds I tried were light handloads of XMP 5744 giving 1500-1600 fps with bullets in the 165 – 180 gr range. Three 3-shot groups with Remington 165 gr soft points at 50 yds measured 1.00, 1.16, and 0.64 inches. Switching to Hornady 180 gr round noses, I got 0.63 and 1.24 inches at 100 yds. Although these seemed to be dandy groups, there was evidence of poor stabilization of the bullets. Much slower powders can be used for heavier loads in the .30-40, and I found that W760 did a good job. Figure 9 shows some groups from higher-velocity rounds. The top two groups came from using the W760 behind Sierra 180 gr round noses (about 2200 fps) fired at 50 yds. They measure 0.58 and 0.82 inches. The bottom two groups were made with Winchester Super-X 180 gr Soft Point factory loads. The one at left fired at 100 yds measures 1.73 inch. The one at right is a 50-yd group, with four in 0.75 inch and a flyer that opens it considerably. The bullets appear to be adequately stabilized in these groups from higher velocity loads. The nominal velocity of Krag factory 180 grainers is 2430 fps.
The rifle functioned well, and loading through the side gate was easy. In the end, the U. S. Army couldn’t stand it, because the Mausers the troops faced in the Spanish-American war could be more quickly loaded from stripper clips. This was one of the reasons for the Krag’s speedy demise. Nevertheless, the side loading works very well for a sporting rifle, in my humble opinion. Feeding was smooth and reliable. The ejector is a lever that is activated as the bolt travels back over it. One needs to rack the bolt back smartly for positive ejection, and I didn’t always do that, suffering some weak ejection. The offset scope situation was awkward, but usable. The conventional wisdom regarding Krags is that they were and are good shooters, but I was certainly surprised by these groups, considering the state of the bore. I guess I now know why Johnny was so proud of his rifle, even though he had very little talent as a craftsman. I wonder what he really did with this piece.
I want gun work to be a pleasant learning experience, and these two thirties surely provided that. I learned that economical or very old rifles can be respectable, even outstanding, shooters. I learned that a rifle with a very long throat can shoot quite accurately. I learned that a rifle with a poor-looking bore can still shoot very well, and yes, the Krag does have a super-smooth action. I learned some of the individual quirks of each rifle that helped me get them to do their best. And, especially with the Krag, I learned some American history. Hooray for Mom and Pop, local gun shows, and an unknown guy named Johnny!